Building a Thriving Community: Christopher Thompson on the Power of Peer Support in Sober Sidekick

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There may be no greater asset during substance abuse recovery than community.

Leaning on others for support and listening as they discuss their own path to sobriety establishes a groundwork for two-way dialogue and a nurturing environment for those in need.

“Historically, peer support has been shown to be a key component of many existing addiction treatment and recovery approaches,” according to the National Institutes of Health. “…The community reinforcement approach has demonstrated the importance of valued social roles in maintaining abstinence, which is the foundation of the peer support relationship.”

When it comes to the sheer number of people who are in recovery, the stakes could not be higher for maintaining a strong sense of community in the healing process. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 7 in 10—72.2 percent or 20.9 million—adults who ever had a substance use problem consider themselves to be recovering or in recovery.

As he continues on his path of sobriety, Chris Thompson learns more and more about building a community for those in recovery. But he’s already made tremendous strides with Sober Sidekick, the engagement platform he designed and developed that revolves around peer support for those healing from substance abuse.

The Sober Sidekick app is driven by the Empathy Algorithm, which makes sure platform users respond within seconds or minutes whenever someone reaches out for support through a post on the platform. The goal is to reduce and eliminate isolation.

“Seeing reviews from our members, saying they were in tears within the first session, this speaks to how the Empathy Algorithm works,” Chris said. “Sober Sidekick is all about building an experience where people engage with each other in a positive light. I believe everybody wants to be there for someone.”

Sober Sidekick seeks to eliminate the uncertainty that typically defines a meeting of the right person at the right time; to help facilitate assistance for an individual facing substance abuse issues. The main objective of Sober Sidekick is to bring certainty to meetings between those who are struggling and those who can help.

Building anything from scratch can be a challenge. But Chris has accomplished this while navigating the nuances of recovery. He also stressed the importance of prioritizing member experience over scaling.

“Every platform you build is an emotional and psychological experience,” he said. “So understanding what the emotional need is, what the emotional pain point is, could not be more important. What helped was, I was in a very similar spot, I had just gotten sober myself. So I had some intuitive knowledge as far as what those emotional pain points were. But I was also on the platform with members every day, just asking them how they were doing.”

Chris has found success with Sober Sidekick because he remains very close to the user experience.

“I had people tell me all types of things,” he said. “I had people tell me that, two weeks ago, they had a gun to their head, pulled the trigger, and it misfired. There were all types of things people were telling me. So what I was doing was working to understand the pain point and then building an experience that got members to feel relief.”

Incentivization is also key to the Sober Sidekick experience, as is the clarity generated by the platform branding.

“We incentivize supporting others,” Chris said. “So anyone who’s not helpful sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s incredibly easy to flag them and remove them.”

Incentives include an impact score, where Sober Sidekick members can see in real time the number of days sober for those they have helped.

“This instantly gives them a feeling of saving a life, and that creates a bond with the platform and the other members,” Chris said.

Those who offer support are also awarded empathy badges and top users—some have helped thousands—are recognized.

“We offer a very focused community,” Chris said, “a very focused user experience.”

Sober Sidekick is experiencing tremendous growth, with 200K total users and more than 5K written reviews. The American Heart Association is lead investor, and Chris has received the NWA Innovator of the Year Award. Also, the Validation Institute confirmed Sober Sidekick’s assertion that its users are more likely to maintain their sobriety.

And then there are the success stories that speak volumes.

A DEA officer reached out to Chris and the two met up in Los Angeles. The officer told Chris that he was in LA because Sober Sidekick had inspired him to enter a treatment program.

“He told me that Sober Sidekick had saved his life,” Chris said.

Added Chris, “We’ve got countless stories of people from all walks of life, because this affects everyone. It affects every single family and it’s just a question of where people are on their own personal journey and how we have created a place where it’s safe to be honest and real. We keep seeing more and more people who are willing to get help and help others.”

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